Huck Gets Serious

It came as something of a surprise move to people who didn’t think Mike Huckabee was really going to run for president in 2016, and the larger group who figured he would not give up his wealth-creating, base-appealing gig at Fox News until such time as a proto-campaign had been built and road-tested, and was emitting a high-pitched chattering whine at the starting line with his foot trembling on the clutch. But Huck’s abrupt abandonment of his weekly show so that he can consider a run for the presidency is at least as credible a sign of seriousness as Jeb Bush’s abandonment of potentially toxic corporate board positions.

The former Arkansas governor will not, however, be taken too seriously by elements of the chattering classes who have deep contempt for any would-be president who isn’t either a self-funder or very comfortable in the places where billionaires congregate (like Jerry Jones’ skybox, for example). More serious skeptics note that in 2008 Huck’s strength and weakness were identical: his political appeal extended only so far as the places with a lot of conservative evangelical voters, where he had relatively light competition.

Can Huck recapture his 2008 magic? The most immediate question, aside from money, is whether the power-nexus of Iowa-based Christian Right activists centered on the shadowy David Lane have, as Dave Weigel puts it, “got their man” in Huck Redux. If so, that could be fatal news for the presidential hopes of Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal, who were aiming narrowly at the same constituency, and very bad news for Rick Perry and Ted Cruz and Mike Pence (and maybe even for wingnut-flavor-of-the-month Ben Carson), who need a sizable share of it. Expect all these worthies to invest themselves–indirectly, of course–in efforts to keep Huck from running, perhaps via a campaign of intimidation by his old enemies at the Club for Growth, who are already pulling out the old anti-Huck talking points, per WaPo’s Balz and Costa:

Former Indiana congressman David McIntosh, who is president of the Club for Growth, a free-market advocacy group, said in an interview Sunday that most donors he knows think Huckabee should be running in the Democratic presidential primary. He also said that the group, which hounded Huckabee in 2008 with critical ads and news releases, would do the same in 2016. A revised white paper on Huckabee is in the works.

For his part, Huck has to figure out exactly how to flesh out the vague impression of “populism” he created in 2008 by doing little other than refusing to praise W.’s economic stewardship as having created the best of all possible worlds. Yes, the hostility of the Club for Growth (which he once called the “Club for Greed”) will help, but other than that, his main “populist” credential is long-standing support for that hardy perennial of the right-wing talk show circuit, the deeply regressive Fair Tax.

Another key Huck ’08 asset, highly favorable MSM coverage, is probably as dated as his weight-loss regimen and his bass-playing shtick. There was always an avenging Christian Right activist just beneath the surface of Huckabee’s sunny persona, and he’s been showing a lot more of it lately. Some of his erstwhile MSM admirers will be shocked to learn that the Southern Baptist minister actually believes this stuff, but it will play very well in northwest Iowa and up-country South Carolina.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.